Monday, February 2, 2009

And once again…RIOJA

[Since I'm trying to get the most of my writing and time these days, I thought that I would show you a sneak peak at my March newsletter article where I work. Yes, I am well aware that I am doing some double dipping here.]

Well, I’ve written about wines from Rioja before, I’m writing about them now, and I’m sure I will continue to discuss the virtues of this most noble of Spanish wine regions in future newsletters. Located along the banks of the Rio Ebro, the river which diagonally cuts a large swath across much of the northeastern quadrant of Spain, Rioja is divided into three sub-zones: Rioja Alta (coolest climate, and as the name suggests home of the highest elevation vineyards, as well as most of the better known bodegas), Rioja Alavesa (a bit warmer and drier, in the Basque province of Alavá) and Rioja Baja (warmest, driest, and furthest south, where garnacha is most commonly planted). Here are a few exciting, recent Rioja arrivals:

2005 Viña Izadi Rioja Crianza- $16.99
Excellent winemaking and balance as usual with this Rioja Alavesa wine. It shows intense, youthful black cherry fruit and hints of vanilla from oak. The issue of oak is no less divisive in Rioja as anywhere else these days. Used American barrels are traditional (despite the fact that some wineries insist that French has long been the standard bearer of quality). To further complicate things, wineries such as Marques de Vargas ($24.99 for their ’04 Reserva, by the way, is quite tasty) have successfully experimented with Russian and Ukrainian oak, something which no doubt has awakened the snark in many of their peers. Back to the Izadi, the back label states that the wine has been aged 14 months in American oak. Would have fooled me – I thought for sure it was French. Bottom line: balanced wine is good wine and this Izadi is balanced and ready to accompany a wide range of your favorite meals at home.

2005 Zuazo Gaston Rioja Crianza - $16.99
This is a family winery owned and managed by Prudencio Zuazo Gaston in Rioja Alavesa. His family has been growing grapes in Rioja Alavesa for a few hundred years. Though they still sell much of their production, they produce an increasing quantity of their own wine. And that’s a good thing. All four major varieties (Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano) are grown, and together they produce a classically styled Rioja crianza – full of bright red fruit, a touch of savory spice, and a mellow, nicely balanced end taste.

1994 Viَña Valoria Rioja Gran Reserva - $59.99
Located in Logroño (La Rioja Alta), Viña Valoria produces an impressive range of traditionally styled Riojas. For fans of mature Bordeaux, might I suggest this special gran reserva bottling from the terrific 1994 ‘cosecha’ in Rioja . There is a very savory nose of beef tenderloin, damp clay and roasted poblano peppers (some unique aromas, to be sure, but together they’re just fine - work with me here people!). On the palate there is red fruit, a touch of sun dried tomato, some mineral on the back end, and fully resolved tannins – the mouth feel is velvety and all one could hope for in a mature red wine. This wine is currently drinking at its peak. Drink it up now and over the next few years.